EDS: The single point of failure

EDS: The single point of failure

Summary: Another week, another EDS Government IT catastrophe…

TOPICS: Tech Industry

"It's amazing that anyone could manage to cock it up so successfully." That was the reaction from Liberal Democrat IT spokesperson Richard Allan to the spectacular desktop crash at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) last week. It’s a viewpoint we wholeheartedly concur with.

After the Child Support Agency (CSA) debacle earlier this month, when it emerged that the £450m system built by EDS still isn't working properly a year and a half after its supposed completion, the DWP crash seemed impossibly incompetent. Somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 desktops crashed -- exact figures weren't forthcoming as the DWP doesn't actually seem to know how many computers it has -- during an upgrade from Windows 2000 to Windows XP. According to our sources, EDS was attempting a small trial upgrade of around 40 machines which somehow went awry and spread to the entire network. Bingo! -- no more desktops.

DWP has tried to play down the problem ('Hey, 20 percent of our systems were fully functional'), but the repercussions of the outage have seen the opposition calling for a full inquiry and Microsoft's and EDS' share prices taking a hit on the stock market.

What's especially worrying in this instance is that this was a desktop upgrade. As the Liberal Democrats' Allan points out: "To be able to make this kind of mistake with desktops is actually quite tough". We could sympathise with the CSA system glitches, just about, as bedding in new server infrastructure is tricky. But desktops? Admittedly, there are over 80,000 of them -- but this is probably where the crux of the issue lies. No single organisation should be charged with managing that many PCs, except perhaps the DWP itself. Certainly not EDS, which probably got the gig in the first place as there so few suppliers with the resources to manage (or mismanage) a project of this kind.

Another factor is the commitment made by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to cull tens of thousands of 'extraneous' civil service jobs and make good any productivity shortfalls with technology. The problem is that this kind of solution costs a lot of money and takes a long time to implement -- longer than the time to the next election certainly. But rather than take a strategic view, the Chancellor is trying to cut corners by jumping on massive service deals such as those offered by the likes of EDS. He is cutting from both ends at once: cutting staff and cutting IT. Which, as we have seen with the DWP, simply does not work.

Homogeneity might seem the cheapest way to go, but the proliferation of malware affecting the Windows platform is testament to the dangers of sticking to one software standard. If the Government took the time to analyse the precise needs of each department within the DWP, they might find that thin clients from Sun, or perhaps desktop Linux, would prove more secure and possibly cheaper too. The idea that one Windows/MS Office size fits all seems very narrow-minded.

By chasing cheap deals via economies of scale, the Government has made a rod for its own back -- putting too many desktops running the same software in the hands of one supplier. It might cost slightly more and be harder to manage, but by splitting the DWP into smaller bite-sized chunks (possibly by geographic area or work function), a host of smaller firms could be invited to tender, increasing competition and doing away with a single point of failure like EDS.

Let's hope something changes soon, as right now EDS is one of the leading proponents of ID card technology in the US. Be afraid.


Topic: Tech Industry

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  • It's understandable that people and the meida are quick to jump on the bandwagon of EDS's unsuccessful ventures and to some extent, in fact to all extent, they have every right to do so. I work for EDS and currently work on the DWP project.

    What strikes me as particularly odd is the fact that I and hundreds others sometimes worked day and night over the past few years migrating these very desktops from NT to W2K - and the reason we worked long hours and travelled far and wide?! To ensure both our customers and the DWP 'customers' weren't inconvenienced and business went along as usual. 2 Things anooy me now - 1) all our hard work and effort has just went down the pan in one fail swoop, and 2) no one was quick off the mark to say "my god! - they rolled out how many machines!!". Funny isn't it, how you always hear about the failures yet are unaware of the successes!!!.

    EDS has it's problems, and while under no illusion as to the incompentent few, I refuse to accept this is all EDS's fault. Time after time, I see EDS's name dragged through the mud because of other people's incompentence and inability to understand I.T. and it is this very thing which fails projects although EDS could be somewhat smarter and take a leaf from the governments books!. Maybe it's just cause we're too damn honest!
  • Shame on you ZDNET for being so one sided
    EDS takes on the most troublesome accounts that other big IT companies will not even bid on
    and has alot of success with them, but the media and everyone else seems to have it in for EDS. Without EDS and free competition we would all suffer.
  • I would say the author is correct here. It's a well known saying that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. I'm not saying that EDS is bad in particular - indeed to be as successful as they are they must be doing something right - but if these desktops were managed by a systems administrator at DWP, do you really think he would still have his job?

    When an entire government department can be brought down so easily by a simple mistake made by one person, something is wrong. I would say that anyone wishing their system to be fast and reliable would be being foolish and hypocritical if they specify Windows.
  • Good Journalism requires balance, this article is totally biased, just to have a swing at EDS. To what end I ask myself. There is no mention of all the Government Projects EDS have delivered successfully for example for the Inland Revenue for 10 years, or non government for GM in Luton for longer than that. There is no mention of all the people EDS employs in the UK (in excess of 15000) and the contribution to the UK Exchequer. Keep this going and the media will help make thousands redundant. Yes obviously these are 2 major blunders but the media seem to jump on EDS's shortcomings and virtually ignore other companies. And Microsoft who
  • Balance? From a journalist? The media almost never reports success because success doesn't sell. How many times do you see a headline saying that the railways are running on time? That the youth of today are helping the elderly? Need I go on. The media is in the business of sensationalising any issue they like.

    If you complain, then they have done their job well.
  • To answer a couple of these complaints:

    1.This an editorial Leader and as such is meant to represent the views of this publication rather than be a piece of factual reporting.

    2. Our problem is not so much with EDS but with the government's decision to pick from a small pool of vendors which is anti-competitive

    3. As for the accusation of negative reporting if you take time to look across the site you'll see plenty of in-depth articles detailing succesful technology projects and extolling IT innovation.
  • I work for an American company that worldwide has 25.000 pc 's. We use Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) as a software distributiontool and we could upgrade from Windows 2000 to XP with it (but we don 't). You can create collections in SMS (like all pc 's, pc 's in London, pc 's in the US, etc). It 's possible that they selected the wrong collection (all pc 's). So this is a terrible mistake.
    What distribution tool do they use?
    I would like to know if all 60.000 pc 's are now migrated to XP? If this is the case then EDS has set a migrationworldrecord.
    Can anyone clarify this?
  • The IT press are bound to blame EDS. It sells. The Civil Service Unions will shout loud as they are trying to save jobs.
    The real problem is Journalists will never give an unbiased and properly researched account. They would rather appeal to the scandle mongers so they can sell their tacky little papers.
    Remember all these people who write about IT have never done it, and probably couldn't switch their own PC on
  • The real problem is that just about everyone considers themselves IT expert enough to make 'informed decisions' based on 'facts' presented by persons who are commercially motivated and consider themselves IT expert enough also.

    This means that wannabees, never minds, not there yet and real (multi-platform) professionals get equal voting and the latter ones are greatly outnumbered by the former.

    As a result overall quality goes down the tube yet revenues for the commercially motivated increase.

    Add to that that absolutely no-one (certainly high level decision makers) will really get axed, trialed and executed no matter how big the mistakes, how large the budget overruns, how empty the promises turn out to be and how huge the clean-up costs are.

    Then ask yourself what possible reasons the responsible people (decision makers, managers, advisors, consultants and external commercial companies) actually have to change their behaviour and attitude as long as they're not made responsible and realisticly fully accountable for their actions, decisions and advises.

    As history has shown: buying into build-in required extra work with zero liability for the ones providing it will not get you what you need. It'll get you what they told you to ask for. And that's only good for them.

    The fact of business life is that they won't do what lowers their profits unless there's a real risk of having to pay a fine of some sort that's significantly larger then the probable revenues they gain from just going ahead as they see fit.

    As such certainly governments are advised to require from their solution providers at least two total solutions (otherwise you can say you're dealing with a company that doesn't have a clue enough) along with the requirement that the providing party will specifiy a complete and total roll-back plan beforehand which they will be fully accountable for if the pre-arranged delivery conditions are not completely satisfied in time.

    On an individual case level that'll increase the price at first but on an overall scale and in the longer run it'll significantly lower cost because it'll require responsible business behaviour and a greater demand for real professionals that can provide more then one answer (thus improving competition which will automaticly provide a lasting better value for money overall).
  • Yes, even a trained monkey can successfully install WinXP these days but if you emply UNTRAINED monkeys then you can bring your bid for government work in much lower than the opposition and who knows, they might pick up enough on the job to get away without training...
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  • Being on the receiving end of one of EDS's "successes" I can only smile as I read this report.
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